Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

When Do Religious Leaders Support Faith-Based Violence? Evidence from a Survey Poll in South Sudan

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

When Do Religious Leaders Support Faith-Based Violence? Evidence from a Survey Poll in South Sudan

Article excerpt

Introduction

"Deus lo vult," Latin for "God wills it," were the words with which Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont in 1095 (e.g., Horowitz 2009; Latham 2011). The bloody Crusades and many other faith-driven violent incidents demonstrate, to this day, the crucial role of religious leaders in many conflicts. Besides religious structures, ideas, and institutions, religious leaders play a key role in mobilizing religious groups (e.g., Fox 2013; Toft 2007). Given their legitimacy, credibility, and influence with many followers, religious leaders often command huge resources for mobilization (Fox 2013, 85-88) and may be the crucial difference that tips the balance in the "ambivalence of the sacred" (Appleby 2000). They can either call for peace or instigate violence. Recent empirical evidence suggests that pro-violence discourse by religious leaders contributes to the escalation of religious conflict (Basedau, Pfeiffer, and Vüllers 2014).

But what makes religious leaders either support peace or promote violence? Alongside many case study-oriented works, the more systematic literature on religious leaders has stressed the role of competition between leaders that result in outbidding processes that in turn generate extremism (De Juan 2009; Toft 2007). Other scholars have focused on group differences and social deprivations on which religious or other types of leader can capitalize on (Canetti et al. 2010; Hauk and Mueller 2015; Trejo 2009). Sociological and psychological survey-based research on why people generally countenance violence points to demographic variables such as age, gender, and education, or to the individual's personal experiences with violence (e.g., Black et al. 2010). However, such personal preferences and experiences have almost never been tested as alternative explanations for the chosen attitudes of religious leaders. Research on the determinants of religious leaders' attitudes toward violence has almost never used survey polls. Survey-based work on the effects of religious attitudes typically deals with ordinary believers only, covers few attitudes, and uses political intolerance as the dependent variable rather than violence (e.g., Eisenstein 2006).

Drawing on a survey poll of 102 religious leaders in Juba, South Sudan, this paper aims to contribute to the filling of this knowledge gap. This article provides the first attempt to study the attitudes of religious leaders toward violence based on an opinion poll in a developing country. Measured as the sanctioning of riots as a reaction to an offense to Mohammed and/or Jesus, this paper analyzes when and why some religious leaders are liable to support faith-based violence while others are not. The paper looks not only at classical determinants of support for violence such as age, gender, education, and previous personal experiences with violence, but also at a huge number of pertinent religious attitudes and behaviors such as tolerance toward other faiths, threat perceptions vis-à-vis other groups, and interreligious activities.

Results suggest that support for faith-based violence is largely independent from individual demographic determinants but is closely related to one's other religious attitudes. Those leaders who embrace secularism and are tolerant toward other faiths reject religion-based violence. The only exception in biographical terms is a Muslim identity of leaders. Given the proximity of radical Islamism in neighboring (North) Sudan and being a minority in the sample and in South Sudan, Muslims seem to more readily accept faith-based violence-however, they also have empathy for the riots of Christians and not just those of Muslims. Surprisingly, interreligious activities do not reduce support for violence although they do increase understanding for peaceful protest. We generally find evidence that the support of peaceful protests follows a different logic than for violent ones. A preliminary comparison with laymen suggests that the attitudes of leaders and ordinary believers are not the same. …

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